Deer Rifles and Ammo
November 14, 2018
Editorial Staff (267 articles)
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Deer Rifles and Ammo

Bullet placement always the key

By Horace Gore

As a deer hunter for the last 60 years, and having taken whitetails and mule deer with rifles ranging from .222 Remington to .300 Weatherby, I would like to give my views on rifles and ammunition for mulies and whitetails. To begin the discussion—especially for new hunters—the best deer rifle is the biggest caliber you can shoot well. Your favorite deer rifle should be one you enjoy shooting; one you can put the bullet exactly where you want it; and one that has manageable recoil for you.

This favorite rifle may be a .243 or a .300 Magnum, which is fine. Both calibers will put a buck down with style. The key is bullet placement, regardless of the weight and size of the projectile.

Rifle and cartridge trends for deer hunting come with availability, price, and advertising. AR-15 type rifles, which are mostly plastic, are very popular in .308. Apparently, they shoot well, and sales are high, but I’ve never owned one.

I’m old fashioned, and like nice blue rifles with pretty walnut stocks and fine checkering. The “black” AR-type rifles don’t appeal to me—kind of like Mona Lisa with a wart on her nose. Too, a magazine full of shells is not necessary for deer hunting. If you think back, I’ll wager you could have killed every deer with a single shot rifle. It’s the first shot that counts.

Magnums’ early popularity

Back in the early ’60s, Magnums were the rage. Roy Weatherby had a series of Magnums ranging from the .224 to the .460. The most popular for those who could afford the pricey, but quality rifles, were the .257 and .300. I like the .257, which is simply a super .25-06, and the .300 is good for elk and other big game.

The .264 Winchester and later, the 7mm Remington, were popular Magnums. The 7mm still is. Problem is many hunters can’t manage the recoil, resulting in more wounded deer than necessary. Dog handlers in South Texas say that more 7 Mags are associated with crippled bucks than any other caliber.

Today, the trend in popular calibers seems to go towards the 6.5—the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5-284, and a comeback of the .264 Winchester. Target shooters seek this caliber in moderate velocity loads, but the 6.5s are excellent on game from deer to elk. However, the top five cartridges for deer are the .30-06; .30-30; .243; .308; and 7mm Mag.

Years ago, some hunting experts put the figures together and came up with a combination of bullet weight and velocity (which equals energy and hydrostatic shock) needed to effectively kill a whitetail or mule deer of average weight. Regardless of the distance of the shot, the bullet should weight 100 grains or more, and have a muzzle velocity of 2,800 feet per second. This adds up to an energy level adequate to put a deer hit in a vital area down, which destroys tissue, causing the deer to quickly expire.

Minimum effective cartridges

This minimum effective deer hunting cartridge would include the .243/6mm, most of the .25 calibers, 6.5 Creedmoor (and similar 6.5mm), the .270 and 7mm, and on up to most of the .30 calibers. Anything bigger than the .30-06 is probably an over-kill, and has too much recoil for the average hunter. An example is the 7mm Magnum. Some hunters just can’t take the recoil of the 7 Mag., resulting in a wounded deer that has to be caught or found with a dog.

Whitetails and mulies live in much different climes and habitats, and often the hunter looks at very different shooting conditions. In Texas, where the majority of deer hunters sit in a comfortable blind and shoot at a deer at the feeder less than 100 yards away, the choice of rifle should be in the medium range, and never bigger than the .30-06. A good choice, if you’re going to buy a rifle, would be a .243/6mm or 7mm-08 for the recoil-minded hunter. The old favorites, the .270 or .30-06, are hard to beat for either whitetails or mule deer.

I have personally taken more whitetails with the .30-06 than any other caliber, and next would be the .270. However, my daughter favors the .243 and 7mm-08, and has taken about 14 whitetail bucks during the last 20 years. All of her kills were with one shot, even up to 250 yards. Bullet placement is her forte, and she’s a crack shot.

Mule deer hunting

Mule deer hunting is a different matter. The edge habitats of mountain ranges can often provide longer shots, and the need to anchor a buck quickly. A crippled mulie can find some rough and tumble places to finally expire, and they may be difficult to bring out. I prefer a flat-shooting rifle on the upper end, such as .270; 30-06; or my favorite, the .264 Winchester and 140-grain bullets.

I’ve taken mule deer with all of them, and they are all good if you use 130-grain in .270, and 150-grain bullets in the ’06. Also, for the Magnum-minded, I could heartily recommend the .257 Weatherby with 117-grain bullets. This is one of the best Magnums I have ever used, but it’s pricey.

One rifle for everything

I have two rifles in .300 Weatherby. They both shoot well, and each has a muzzle brake. Recoil is about 20 pounds, similar to the .30-06. I shoot 165-grain bullets on deer and 180 grains on elk. The .300 Magnums are deadly on big game, but an over-kill on deer.

However, if you’re like many hunters who like to use one rifle for everything, one of the many Magnums such as the .257 Weatherby, .264 Winchester, 7mm Remington, .300 Winchester (and on and on) will handle anything, if the hunter can stand the recoil and noise. Probably a better choice for Texans who hunt mostly at home, but sometimes go elsewhere, would be the .270 or .30-06, with bullet choice for whatever game you are after.

Let me repeat: Bullet placement is more important than how big the projectile is, or how fast it’s going.

The long-time favorite cartridge of the Eskimos of Alaska has been the diminutive .222 Remington with 55-grain bullet at 3,200 fps and energy at 100 yards of 900 fps. For years, they have killed everything that lives in their world for food and clothing. Their use of the little .222 is the best example of bullet placement that I can think of. It has worked for them, and it will work for you, if you shoot the rifle that you shoot the best.

 

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